Wednesday, October 05, 2016

What we can learn from the animals...a sermon on Matthew 6:25-33

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the God of all Creation. Amen.
There was an internet meme floating around this summer about “What God was thinking when creating the animals.”  Some of these are too good not to share. 

When creating parrots: How about a tie-dye chicken who screams actual words at you.
When creating snakes: how about a sock that is angry all of the time.
When creating kittens: Make them fluffy and cuddly. And put razor blades on their feet.
When creating spiders: Make it a land octopus, that can walk on walls.
When creating dogs: These turned out great, I am going to need all of these back someday.
I am so thrilled to be preaching in worship this morning, as we celebrate the life of St Francis and bless the beloved animals with whom we share our lives. I have always had dogs in my life. From my childhood pets, to the dogs that my parents and sisters have now, to the dogs that compose my family here in Minneapolis, I have always believed that the love that we give and receive from animals can teach us about God and being God’s kingdom in the world.
We too are beautiful creatures created in the image of God. We hear in our Psalm that God created all of the world and all of the living things in it. All animals that walk, swim, and fly upon the earth were created by God, all of humanity included.  We want to sometimes distance ourselves from being creatures, being animals, because we want to ascribe some of our instinctual qualities to our animal selves. Like competition for resources or the desire to procreate.  We want to harness our instincts into self-control and being polite. I think one of the defining characteristics of being human is the tendency to worry. This is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals with whom we share this earthly home. And there are many things about which to worry.
We worry about paying bills and meeting deadlines. We worry about making friends and fitting in at school and work and even church. We worry about climate change and systemic racism and diminishing resources for an exponentially growing population. We worry about being happy and fulfilled in our vocation.  Sometimes we even worry because we aren’t worrying enough or don’t seem to be worrying about the things that other people are worried about.
The Gospel that we heard today from Matthew gets right to the heart of this matter. Jesus is teaching to the crowds while he moves about the countryside. He was speaking to people who really didn’t have anything to lose by dropping everything and coming to hear this desert prophet speak. He wasn’t speaking to people who were influential in their communities or local government or who really had any power or privilege. There was legitimate concern for where their next meal would be coming from or whether or not they would have clothing.
While many of us here may not have these survival worries, we do have deep concerns for our own lives and wellbeing. For coping with mental illness, physical limitations, raising well-adjusted children or helping aging parents into the next phase of life. Look inward…what are you most worried about?  What wakes you in the night or occupies your daytime thinking? What is the one thing, or multiple things, that give you a lump in your throat and makes you feel as if you might never be free?
With that in mind, hear this summary of the Gospel…
Therefore, listen to what I am telling you: don’t worry about staying alive or about what you will eat or drink, or about your body or what you will wear. Isn’t living life more than looking towards your next meal or your clothing? Look at the birds? They don’t plant crops or harvest them, and yet, your heavenly parent feeds them! Don’t you think that you are of more value in God’s eyes? And can any of you make your life any longer by worrying?  Why are you worrying about what you will wear?  Think about the lilies of the field, how they live. They neither sew or weave fabric, yet they are clothed like royalty. But if God provides beauty to the grasses of the field, which is alive for such a short time, will God not care for you even more? Therefore, do not worry, asking, “what will we eat or drink? Or what will we wear? For it is those among you that do not have faith who think about these things, and indeed your heavenly parent knows your needs. Strive first for the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you.
I have always loved this text. That is why I picked it for this Sunday where we bless the animals with whom we share our lives and our homes. I love the imagery of a tiny sparrow, fragile, vulnerable and how God provides for that sparrow. I love the imagery of a lily of the valley being clothed in royal finery by God. I love the message of “Do not worry, because it is not going to add any years to your life.” Because I believe that it is something that we need to hear constantly.
Do not worry. Because it is not going to do anything to benefit you or provide you with what you need. Strive to be close to God and God’s people, by ever seeking out the kingdom of God.  Your needs will be met in this way. What does it look like to seek after the kingdom of God?
It looks like a group of God’s beloved gathered in a sanctuary with their dogs, cats, snakes, geckos, stuffed animals and pictures of dear pets. Gathered together to sing praise to God through song, barking, meowing and whatever noise rodents make.
It looks like the beauty that we create together for beauty’s sake. The music that Andrea and our choir create each week. The flowers and gardens that are lovingly tended on our block.
Striving after the kingdom of God looks like this congregation coming together to provide a warm wall tent for the community gathered at Standing Rock so that they might survive the winter.
Seeking God’s kingdom looks like the faithful food shelf volunteers greeting our south Minneapolis neighbors with care and hospitality each week.
The kingdom of God is all of us gathered here today, in this space, craving the Word and the Body of Christ, that we might go out and be of service in our schools, work, and homes.
We are going to worry, because we are human. It is what we do. But God wants us to be free from those worries and to rest comfortably in God’s presence. This is what we can learn from the furry, feathered and four legged friends here today.

Animals teach us about joy. Those of you that have dogs will know that there is some variation of “Let’s go for a walk” or “Want to go for a ride?” or at my house, “Do you want to go bye bye?” that will make your dog lose their mind with happiness. Or with cats, the sound of a can opener or a shaking of treats will bring your cat running from anywhere in the house, purring and weaving between your feet. We can learn something about the “drop everything and be happy” approach to life that our animals show us.
Animals teach us about being present in the moment.  My dogs aren’t worried about finding success at work or paying bills, they simply want to be with the people they love and find joy in this being together. When we go for a walk, they are smelling flowers and trees and observing squirrels and birds. They aren’t distracted by what is back at home. When I think about living live intentionally, I think about how animals interact with what is around them.  They are present in this time, enjoying and engaging what right now has to offer.
Animals teach us about freedom from worry. They see that their immediate needs are met and then they simply live. They aren’t concerned with building up their resume or retirement accounts.  They aren’t striving to find happiness, because happiness is wherever they are at that time.  
Today we celebrate the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, who exemplifies seeking the kingdom of God by showing kindness to all of God’s creatures. He is the patron saint of animals and the natural world. In the Lutheran tradition, we do not have much of a history of celebrating saints, certainly not as much as our Roman Catholic siblings. But St Francis is a fascinating person, both saint and sinner. He is the founder of the religious order known as Franciscans, the largest order in the Catholic church. Franciscans, generally men, although there is one subset of Franciscan nuns, are known for wearing brown robes, and devoting themselves to contemplation, preaching, and service. St Francis of Assisi, named for the town in which he resided, has a complicated and interesting history. In his youth, he was known for debauchery. After a religious conversion experience, he was said to have devoted himself to repairing rundown churches, using money made from selling goods he stole from his father. He was known for brokering peace settlements, particularly for a visit to North Africa in an attempt to stop the Crusades. He is remembered for a great many acts of kindness and mercy and is often depicted while holding a small bird in his hands.  St Francis was a preacher and prolific writer, known especially for a song called the Canticle of Brother Sun, which was used at the time as a shared expression for people of different faiths, but a shared experience of care for one another.  I leave you with the Canticle of Brother Sun today:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility

Thursday, July 28, 2016

What do Chaplains wear?

When I first started this chaplain gig four years ago I remember being entirely puzzled by what to wear for my shifts in the hospital.  This is a professional job, but it comes unique challenges when it comes to attire. I will share a few of the things that I have learned in the hopes that it might be helpful for all those CPE students or other chaplains.  I can only speak to women's attire, perhaps my male colleagues have more to offer for men.

First, hospitals will likely have a dress code of some sort.  Chaplains fall into the "professional" category of employees, but do most of their work in clinical areas and have direct patient contact. Other professionals who fall into this category include social workers, registered dietitians, pharmacists and psychotherapists. At the bare minimum, hospital dress codes usually include closed-toe shoes, socks (no flats for women unless wearing tights or socks), and what is termed "professional/business casual attire."  For women this can be button-down shirts, slacks, cardigans, skirts, etc.  Some hospitals have their own specifics.  I've worked at facilities that required me to cover my forearm tattoo (hence why I have a wide variety of cardigans).  My current employer has requested that we dress "for safety", which means no dangling scarves, neckties, earrings, necklaces, etc, that could be become hazardous by being pulled by patient or caught while doing a task.

Next, think about what you need from your clothing to complete your tasks at work.  I carry two pagers simultaneously, which means I need somewhere to clip them.  For this reason, dresses don't work for me and I never wear them to work.  I will wear skirts if they have a tailored waistband that can support the pagers. I also need pockets because I am frequently carrying around pieces of paper, rosaries, and other things.  My work requires standing, but also bending my knees and squatting down next to beds or chairs, and lots of walking around.  I have found that what works best for me to wear are high-end tailored neutral color scrub pants.  My favorite style is the five pocket pant from Grey's Anatomy by Barco. I have them in black, charcoal and khaki.
This is a typical summer work outfit
 They have pockets, look presentable and are comfortable. This may or may not be acceptable depending on your hospital. I am frequently cold at work, as hospitals keep temperatures low to reduce infection risk.  I wear layers (cardigans, fleece vests or sweaters) all year.  Bonus points if your warmup jacket contains pockets. You need to wash your hands a lot, so having sleeves that roll up is important.

This is a typical cooler weather
work outfit for me.

Third, think about your clothing as it relates to infection prevention for yourself and for your patients. Some units (at my hospital the SICU and Burn Unit) require you to remove a sweater, jacket, cardigan or lab coat upon entry. Everything I wear to work is machine washable, because I have no interest in dry cleaning. As evening chaplain, I am on every single unit. I could be in the ER with extremely injured patients, I could be on the burn unit with patients at high risk of infection, I could be on labor and delivery or I could be visiting someone on enteric or contact isolation precautions in the MICU. I do not want my clothing to become an infection vector for myself, my family, or other patients.  So once I wear something to work it goes directly into the hamper at home until it is washed.

Shoes are an important consideration when it comes to comfort, functionality and safety.  I wear a dedicated pair of Danskos to work.  They are the Pro XP model, which has a slip resistant sole and removable insole.  I have custom orthotics which fit into the clogs. I walk about 14-16k steps per day at work, so comfortable shoes are a must. I wear these shoes pretty much only to work and they live just inside my front door because I have no desire to track anything nasty into my home.

With regards to accessories, I wear a watch or fitbit everyday.  I note when I enter and exit a patient's room, because I must enter that into a chart note later. I have a work notebook that is covered with leather and has a pen attached for this purpose. It has taken many iterations to find a system that works for me. Sometimes I use scraps of paper, but I find that the notebook is useful for keeping track of information for more than one shift and sometimes patients or families will request a blank sheet of paper and I can just tear one out of my notebook for them. I usually have one or two pens clipped to my shirt or in my pockets also because pens are a hot commodity in a hospital. Hospitals require you to wear a name badge in a place that is visible above the waist. I wear mine clipped to my collar on the left side. This gives me access to hospital doors, the employee parking garage, and identifies me as someone who belongs at the hospital.

A note on clergy shirts for chaplains:
I would never wear a clergy shirt while visiting patients in my work as chaplain.  For me, a clerical collar belongs in a parish as a work uniform for the pastor or preacher.  Just as I would never wear my employee badge to preach in a congregation, I would never wear my clergy shirt to the hospital while employed as chaplain. I find that the image of a clergy collar can be off-putting to patients who might have had bad experiences with church and who are already in an extremely vulnerable state while being hospitalized. For me, not wearing a clergy shirt is a matter of hospitality.  I also find that outside my specific Lutheran context, a woman in a clergy shirt is confusing and controversial. I find that the shirt is a distraction more than a comfort. People know that I am not a Catholic priest but cannot seem to make the required leap that I am a pastor. Additionally, chaplains are interfaith. I visit patients who are Christian, but also Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hmong, or no particular religious tradition at all. A clergy shirt can create barriers to conversation or create a sense of exclusion.

These Shoes

These shoes belong to a chaplain. These shoes are "hospital shoes", which is a nice way of saying they barely make it inside the front door of my home. Because I have no desire to bring MRSA, CDiff, VRE or anything else home to my family. 

These shoes are hardworking shoes. They walk endless miles of hallways, at least 5-6 miles a day. 

These shoes are covered in blue surgical booties in bloody traumas or operating rooms at the time of organ donation. 

These shoes stand alongside deathbeds and extubation procedures and trauma bays. 

These shoes are stared at during family consults and death notifications and on silent elevator rides with families who leave their beloveds in a sterile morgue.

These shoes see so much. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Black Lives Matter: A letter to other liberal white people

I have struggled with whether or not to write anything about Black Lives Matter, because the last thing the world needs is another white person centering their voice in the movement. I have had a voice for too long, so before I go any further I will lift up the voices of some folks of color whose words have inspired me.

Nekima Levy-Pounds 

Broderick Greer 

Bishop Michael Curry

The Rev Wil Gafney, Ph.D

The Rev Grace Imathiu

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I welcome further suggestions to expand my reading lists. I have also appreciated the writings of James Cone , Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander. I encourage you to check them out, familiarize yourself with their work and become conversant about Black Lives Matter and the profound racism that continues to plague people of color in America.

As a white person, I have my voice heard almost automatically. My privilege allows others to listen to what I have to say. So I need to proceed carefully with what is mine to say.

Primarily, what is mine to say is to own my white privilege. I was born with advantages because of the color of my skin. I have never been followed in a store for fear of shoplifting. I have never had to fear for my life when being pulled over by police, I just have to fear for a speeding ticket. I don't have to be expected to speak for my entire race or have my experience be generalized as true for all other white people. I benefit from institutionalized racism. I benefit because I have white skin. I might not like to think that I am racist, but I am racist. Because I unknowingly benefit from privilege in an untold number of ways. Because I am ignorant of all of these benefits. 

Next, what is mine to say is that it is not the "job" of people of color to educate us (white people) about racism.  It is OUR job to educate ourselves. Google Black Lives Matter for the basics. Visit NAACP's website. Check out any of the websites of the people linked above. Ask me questions and if I don't know the answer, we can find it out together.

Generalizations such as "We're all the same inside" or "I don't see skin color" etc, are violent. They erase the lived experience of racism and pain and injustice of people of color. These expressions are said with good intentions, but good intentions aren't good enough. Commit to educating yourself and educating your family, friends and neighbors.

Don't assume that your experience is the same as that of others. I have many family members who are law enforcement officers. I work with police, sheriffs, and detectives nearly every day in my work at the hospital.  By and large, my interactions with law enforcement officers have been positive. I respect the work that they do. I have never had a bad interaction, but I don't know the experience of others. Part of my role as an ally to the movement is to honor the stories of others and to believe what they are telling me. It is entirely possible to respect law enforcement officers and want to hold them to a higher standard and because of the many cops that I respect and work alongside, I do want ALL police held to higher standards.

Don't EVER say, "All Lives Matter."  Period. Don't do it. Our racist culture reinforces in thousands of ways that some lives matter more than others. We are lifting up Black Lives Matter because it is time to uncover the racism that has plagued our siblings of color. This is yet another example of invalidating the experience of so many people of color. As white people, we already know that our lives matter. We must keep proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.

The Kumm-Hanson's visit Iceland: final thoughts and tips

A few helpful tips that made our trip a success: 

1. Get a TEP. This is a portable wifi Hotspot. It allowed us to use our phones as GPS devices. It was $10 a day, with unlimited data. 

2. Make sure you have a PIN for your credit card. Most places were fine with a chip reader and a signature, but gas stations require PINs. This was an afterthought for us, but we are glad we did it. 

3. Go swimming as often as possible. Icelandic pools have precise etiquette: take your shoes off before entering locker room, take a full shower without swimsuit, leave towel in locker room near shower & don't use your cell phone in locker rooms or pool. Embrace it & relax. Pools are the main social spot in Iceland and they are spectacular. 

4. Cash isn't really necessary. We picked up a nominal amount of cash in the airport, but really only used it for tipping drivers and small purchases like coffee. And if you need it, ATMs are readily available. 

5. Bring an eye mask. The sun didn't really set in the summer. Regulating our sleep was a real challenge. It was difficult to go to sleep without the cue of darkness. We also took Benadryl a few nights when we were really keyed up. 

Thanks for a spectacular honeymoon, Iceland. This is Greenland from the air upon our departure.